Friday, March 09, 2012

Why Was This Dog Attacked?

"Dijon and his owner Kim Ferguson were out for one of the poodle's daily walks in the leash-only dog park when a roughly 60-pound dog ran at them, "grabbed Dijon in its mouth and began shaking him like a rag doll"'

The poodle was killed by this other dog.There are two main reasons why a dog will attack like this.

Social Aggression: Social aggression is a pack oriented type of behavior. In some circumstances, social aggression is activated in the context of the creation, maintenance and safety of the pack. Social aggression also involves the management of the concentration of individuals within a given territory, thus competitors are driven out. All of this maintains the pack, the family unit which is necessary for the survival of a group living predator such as a wolf.

Predatory Behavior: We all know that mammalian predators hunt, kill and eat prey. Prey behaves in ways that cause a predator to stalk, chase, pounce, grab, shake and kill prey. We can use a dummy to activate these same behavioral patterns, such as when you toss a tennis ball, play tug of war, toss a fluffy toy, or twitch an arm in a padded bite sleeve. The chasing-to-killing behavioral pattern is separate from the eating behavior. The first set of behaviors doesn't always lead to the second set of behaviors. Thus, when a predator kills a prey animal, there is often a pause before they consume the animal. And many times, when a dog is loose and kills an animal, such as a sheep, it won't then eat what they killed. So, predatory behavior is really two sets of behavioral patterns. This is also why you can play fetch with a dog, but the dog doesn't then feel compelled to eat and swallow the tennis ball.

In this case, we had a larger dog and a smaller, fluffy dog. It is very possible that the bigger dog killed the dog out of social aggression motives. But, more likely, this was predatory behavior. The clue is the way the poodle was attacked and killed. We see no confrontation between the dogs. No growling. No posturing. The bigger dog runs in, grabs the smaller dog, shakes and kills it, and then the owner of the bigger dog takes off. Typically, a dog fight is conducted differently than a prey kill. A small fluffy dog could easily appear to behave much like a rabbit to another dog. The way it looks and behaves could act like a dummy, simulating the same movements that would trigger a dog to chase a prey animal. The behaviors described in the article describe a predatory attack, not social aggression. Thus, the bigger dog could very well be friendly when meeting other dogs, but might chase and kill a small dog that moves and looks like a rabbit.

Dogs that will chase and kill small dogs like this need to be leashed in public, and wear a muzzle if let loose to exercise in public. These dogs also need advanced obedience training so you can call the dog off of a chase. And if you have a small fluffy dog that looks like prey, you need to avoid areas where bigger dogs like this might be off leash, because your dog is looking like a rabbit, not another dog. It doesn't matter much if you were obeying the law with your fluffy little dog, it is still going to be dead in this kind of encounter. That's why animal control took the following stance on this incident:

"Even in fatal cases like this it is rare for a dog to be put down for killing another pup, but Animal Care and Control would still recommend muzzling the dog at all times and require the owner to keep it leashed at all times and attend training classes."

I think that is the reasonable answer here. The bigger dog isn't vicious. There isn't something wrong with that dog. But the dog was put in an impossible situation, with the owner unable or unwilling or unaware of what was about to happen. It shouldn't be put to death. If the law was being broken, then obviously the law should be obeyed and followed, and any restitution made. That doesn't do much for the owner of the small dog, except teach them a very hard, very sad, very costly lesson about dog behavior.

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